After years of allowing the world’s largest social network to police itself, Congress and federal regulators are discussing some promising reforms.
Typically, the FTC can only impose penalties if a company has violated a previous agreement with the agency.
That means Facebook may well face a fine for the Cambridge Analytica breach, assuming the FTC can show that the social network violated the 2011 settlement. In that settlement, the FTC charged Facebook with eight counts of unfair and deceptive behavior, including allowing outside apps to access data that they didn’t need—which is what Cambridge Analytica reportedly did years later. The settlement carried no financial penalties but included a clause stating that Facebook could face fines of $16,000 per violation per day.
.. “I predict that if the FTC concludes that Facebook violated the consent decree, there will be a heavy civil penalty that could well be in the amount of $1 billion or more,” he said.
.. “Facebook rejects any suggestion that it violated the consent decree,”
.. Daniel J. Weitzner, who served in the White House as the deputy chief technology officer at the time of the Facebook settlement, says that technology should be policed by something similar to the Department of Justice’s environmental-crimes unit. The unit has levied hundreds of millions of dollars in fines. Under previous administrations, it filed felony charges against people for such crimes as dumping raw sewage or killing a bald eagle. Some ended up sentenced to prison.
.. “We know how to do serious law enforcement when we think there’s a real priority, and we haven’t gotten there yet when it comes to privacy,” Weitzner said.
.. Facebook has said it will introduce a new regime of advertising transparency later this year, which will require political advertisers to submit a government-issued ID and to have an authentic mailing address. It said that political advertisers will also have to disclose which candidate or organization they represent and that all election ads will be displayed in a public archive.
.. While she was at the commission, she urged it to consider what it could do to make internet advertising contain as much disclosure as broadcast and print ads. “Do we want Vladimir Putin or drug cartels to be influencing American elections?” she presciently asked at a 2015 commission meeting.
.. Even if it does pass such a rule, the commission’s definition of election advertising is so narrow that many of the ads placed by the Russians may not have qualified for scrutiny. It’s limited to ads that mention a federal candidate and appear within 60 days prior to a general election or 30 days prior to a primary.
.. Last year, ProPublica found that Facebook was allowing advertisers to buy discriminatory ads, including ads targeting people who identified themselves as “Jew haters,” and ads for housing and employment that excluded audiences based on race, age, and other protected characteristics under civil-rights laws.
.. Facebook has claimed that it has immunity against liability for such discrimination under section 230 of the 1996 federal Communications Decency Act, which protects online publishers from liability for third-party content.
.. But sentiment is growing in Washington to interpret the law more narrowly.
.. Jonathan Zittrain, wrote an article rethinking his previous support for the law and declared it has become, in effect, “a subsidy” for the tech giants, who don’t bear the costs of ensuring the content they publish is accurate and fair.
.. “Any honest account must acknowledge the collateral damage it has permitted to be visited upon real people whose reputations, privacy, and dignity have been hurt in ways that defy redress,” Zittrain wrote.